Posts Tagged ‘Channing Frye’

Comeback Player of the Year: Channing Frye

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com


VIDEO: Channing Fry is back after missing last season with a heart issue

There is a slump into the end of the season, and it doesn’t matter.

There is an All-Star at the same position as a threat, and it changes nothing.

Channing Frye should win Comeback Player of the Year — if such an accomplishment still existed — because he gave the imaginary award a real-world bottom line. He didn’t just lose last season, after all. He nearly lost a career. And there were moments, the Suns’ starting power forward would later concede while well on his way to the happy ending, when losing a career was the least of his concerns.

It’s Frye over Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves for the award – scuttled by the league after 1986-87 for too often celebrating players whose comebacks were drug related — because while Love is the better player and power forward, Frye is the better recovery to NBA levels.

Love missed 62 games last season after breaking two bones in his right hand, returning to the lineup, re-fracturing one of the bones and subsequently undergoing surgery. Frye missed all 82 with an enlarged heart, caused by a virus and detected during what he assumed would be a routine preseason physical.


VIDEO: Channing Frye talks with Suns.com about his comeback road to the NBA

Love returned to play 75 of the first 80 games of 2013-14, averaging 26 ppg, fourth in the league, and 12.5 rpg, third in the league, over that time. Bold numbers, sure, but the accomplishment for the Timberwolves is to finish .500.

Frye returned to play each of the first 80, averaging 11.1 ppg, fifth-best on the Suns, and 5.1 rpg, fourth-best. He played an important role on the team that, against all expectations, was in playoff going into the final week of the season — against all expectations.

A year ago, Love was facing speculation on whether he would one day leave Minnesota for free-agent riches. Frye was hearing the phrase “heart trouble” a lot and considering the possibility of retirement.

“Pretty close,” he said earlier in the season. “You had to think about it. But at the same time, I was like, ‘No, it’s not your time yet.’ I just didn’t feel it.’ “

He couldn’t exercise for a while. He felt about 80 percent when 2013-14 started, needing to get stronger and improve his timing, understandable obstacles but obstacles nonetheless. Frye himself wasn’t confident he would make it back to where he would play an entire season.

“There were times,” he said. “There were times when I wasn’t. But my wife and friends stuck with me. It was like, ‘Channing, you’re doing too many good things for it not to be getting better.’ It was me overall taking a different approach. Instead of getting heart-healthy, you’re getting everything-healthy. That really helped me out. It’s helped me during this year.”

Frye’s shooting percentages — both from the field and 3-point range — were in the mid 40s in November (46.5 pct, 41.1 pct 3-point FG), December (45.0, 42.9) and January (45.4, 42.1) before things dipped. In February, his field-goal and 3-point percentages fell to 40.3 and 32.9 percent, respectively, and in March, hit season lows of 39.3 and 28.6 percent. Still, even that slump cannot take away from what Frye accomplished: rediscovering his role as the Suns’ stretch-four, playing every game for the team that has become one of the upbeat stories of the league, and just plain playing again.

Five contenders

Kevin Love, Timberwolves — From 18 appearances last season to a healthy 2013-14. There’s also a possible top-five finish in two prominent categories that would ordinarily be enough to claim victory in this made-up award. But the Suns putting preseason predictions in the blender — with Frye as a starter in that success — plus Minnesota in the lottery changes the ordinary result.

Jared Sullinger, Celtics — Those concerns that the back injury that limited him to 45 games as a rookie were the pre-Draft red flags coming true? Sullinger responded by playing in 74 of the first 80 games and averaging 8.1 rebounds in 27.6 minutes. Red flag lowered.

Greg Oden, Heat — It’s just 22 games, and at nine minutes per, but look at where he came from. Oden wouldn’t win the award. Playing again should be noted, though.

Eric Gordon, Pelicans — Making 64 appearances hardly qualifies as iron-man territory. But that is 13 more than the previous two seasons combined and more than any time since Gordon’s rookie campaign of 2008-09. Gordon will finish third on the team in scoring, behind Anthony Davis and Ryan Anderson.

Shaun Livingston, Nets — This is more Comeback Player of the Generation, a Zydrunas Ilgauskas-Grant Hill kind of recognition, but if CPOY is a made-up award, the parameters can be as well. Livingston played 66 games last season with the Wizards and Cavaliers. But he fought back from years of major knee problems and now gets a big role in Brooklyn’s recovery from early implosion. That’s a career moment to appreciate.

Is Aldridge’s pick-and-roll defense a problem for Blazers?


VIDEO: LaMarcus Aldridge talks after the Blazers’ win against the Hawks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – When we looked at the teammates that had defended the pick-and-roll the best on Wednesday, Mo Williams and Robin Lopez were sixth on the list, but the Portland Trail Blazers were nowhere near the top 10 in team rankings.

According to SportVU, the Blazers ranked 26th in pick-and-roll defense through Monday’s games and are up to 22nd after a game against the reeling Hawks on Wednesday. They’ve allowed 1.06 points per pick-and-roll possession overall, even though they’ve been pretty good when Lopez has been the guy defending the screener, allowing just 1.01. That ranks 55th among 134 players who had been the screener’s defender on at least 200 pick-and-roll possessions through Wednesday. Not great, but above-average.

Note: All stats included here are through Wednesday, March 5.

But near the bottom of the list is Lopez’s frontcourt-mate, LaMarcus Aldridge. The Blazers have allowed 1.17 points per possession when Aldridge has been the guy defending the screener. Of those 134 players who have defended at least 200 pick-and-roll possessions, only one – Trevor Booker – has a higher mark (1.18).

The discrepancy between Lopez’s and Aldridge’s numbers is rather remarkable, because both bigs basically defend pick-and-rolls the same way (though Portland will mix things up a little with Aldridge). While the Pacers drop back with their centers and show high with their power forwards, both Aldridge (most of the time) and Lopez drop back…

20140307_aldridge_pnr

20140307_lopez_pnr

Who are they guarding?

Is it a power forward vs. center thing? The players Aldridge is guarding (Dirk Nowitzki, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love, etc.) are generally more potent offensively than those Lopez is guarding. And the biggest difference in Aldridge and Lopez’s numbers is the field goal percentage that the screener has shot when he has got the ball…

Pick-and-rolls vs. Lopez and Aldridge

Defender Scr. Poss Opp PTS PTS/Poss BH FGM BH FGA BH FG% S FGM S FGA S FG%
Lopez 948 908 914 1.01 140 347 40.3% 59 131 45.0%
Aldridge 734 703 826 1.17 102 249 41.0% 75 132 56.8%

BH FGM, FGA, FG% = Ball-handler shooting
S FGM, FGA, FG% = Screener shooting

But other defenses in the West don’t have the same discrepancy.

When the starting power forwards from the other top 10 teams in the West have defended the screener on a pick-and-roll, the opponent has scored 1.02 points per possession. And when the starting centers on those same teams have defended the screener, the opponent has scored 1.02 points per possession. No discrepancy at all.

The Suns’ pick-and-roll defense has been slightly better when Miles Plumlee has defended the screener than when Channing Frye has, and the same goes for the Warriors, Andrew Bogut and David Lee. But none of the other nine teams has nearly the difference that we see with the Blazers.

The eye test

Watching film, Aldridge doesn’t come across as a noticeably bad pick-and-roll defender. He’s usually in the right position, he doesn’t get caught standing still, or get turned around and lost on possessions (like a couple of bigs in New York).

The Blazers track every defensive possession themselves and say that Aldridge grades out closer the league average on pick-and-rolls (and that Lopez still grades out as better). And when we look at the 57 percent that the screener has shot on Aldridge-defended pick-and-rolls, we’re only talking about 132 shots, not the greatest sample size.

But Synergy Sports grades him as “poor” in regard to defending the roll man. And it’s not hard to find examples (via NBA.com/stats video boxscores) where he fails to close out and lets an opposing big shoot in rhythm…

You can also find examples of him closing out fine, but other West power forwards grade out better via SportVU. The screener takes more shots and shoots them better against Aldridge than any of the other nine guys listed below (from the other West teams at or above .500), even though they’ve all had to defend Aldridge himself, who has attempted almost 200 more mid-range shots than any other player in the league.

Pick-and-roll defense, West power forwards

Defender Scr. Poss Opp PTS PTS/Poss Rk S FGM S FGA S FG% Rk
LaMarcus Aldridge 734 703 826 1.17 10 75 132 56.8% 10
Tim Duncan 849 817 854 1.05 8 42 96 43.8% 4
Channing Frye 729 698 755 1.08 9 39 96 40.6% 2
Blake Griffin 925 896 935 1.04 7 46 91 50.5% 7
Serge Ibaka 733 706 687 0.97 2 32 71 45.1% 5
Terrence Jones 584 561 560 1.00 4 30 72 41.7% 3
David Lee 657 629 592 0.94 1 31 77 40.3% 1
Kevin Love 638 609 593 0.97 3 38 71 53.5% 9
Dirk Nowitzki 668 645 659 1.02 5 44 85 51.8% 8
Zach Randolph 794 767 788 1.03 6 48 98 49.0% 6

Right shots, wrong results

Again, we’re only looking at 132 of the 5,350 shots that Portland opponents have attempted this season. And the Blazers do force the right shots.

The intent of their drop-back scheme is to force the least efficient shots on the floor, between the restricted area and the 3-point line. And 45.4 percent of Portland opponents’ shots have come from there. That’s the fifth highest mark in the league, behind only teams that rank in the top five in defensive efficiency. Portland also ranks in the top 10 in percentage of jump shots that they’ve contested.

But their opponents have made 41 percent of those shots between the restricted area and 3-point line, the fourth highest percentage.

Highest percentage of opponents shots from between
the restricted area and the 3-point line

Team FGM FGA FG% Rank %FGA
Indiana 943 2,462 38.3% 7 48.5%
San Antonio 974 2,469 39.4% 15 48.2%
Golden State 964 2,503 38.5% 8 47.9%
Chicago 905 2,377 38.1% 4 47.6%
Portland 994 2,428 40.9% 27 45.4%

%FGA = Percentage of total field goal attempts

Whether that’s a case of bad luck or because they don’t really contest that well, that’s still just 0.82 points per attempt, which is fine defensively. The Blazers also rank 11th in 3-point defense and second in defending the restricted area.

So, in terms of defending shots, the Blazers do a pretty good job, despite the Aldridge pick-and-roll issue. They rank seventh in opponent effective field goal percentage. But they rank 19th in defensive efficiency, mostly because they force the fewest turnovers in the league, just 12.3 per 100 possessions. And they force only 11.3 with their starting lineup on the floor.

In part, that goes back to their pick-and-roll defense. Not only do the bigs drop back (which means that ball-handlers don’t have to pick up their dribble and make a pass as often), but the guards (especially Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews) don’t apply much pressure up front and can get caught on those screens. No Blazer ranks in the top 80 in steals per game.

Still, the Blazers are OK when Lopez defends pick-and-rolls. And it may be that his ability to stop the ball-handler and stay in contact with the roll man that allows his teammates to better defend their own guys. If Aldridge is a step slower, that can have a domino effect two or three passes away.

Trending up?

The Blazers actually have the No. 1 defense since the All-Star break. That number has been schedule-aided though, as they’ve played the Jazz, Lakers, Hawks, and two games against the depleted Nuggets. It also may have been aided by Aldridge’s absence in the first five post-break games, as they found some defensive success playing smaller and quicker.

Aldridge is back and we’re going to find out if the Portland defense is really improved over the next 10 days, when five of their six games are against teams that rank in the top 12 offensively (and the other is against the improved Grizzlies).

A five-game trip begins against the fourth-ranked Dallas offense on Friday and we’ll see how well Aldridge contests Nowitzki.

Pick-and-roll Data Likes The Suns

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – On the Washington Wizards’ first possession of their big, triple-overtime win in Toronto on Thursday, John Wall and Marcin Gortat ran a side pick-and-roll. The same primary action produced two big free throws in the final minute of the second overtime and a huge three-point play in the third OT.

SportVU cameras captured every pick-and-roll run in the 63 minutes of basketball at the Air Canada Centre on Thursday. The folks at STATS LLC have been tracking pick-and-rolls via SportVU this season, opening a new door as we look to learn more about the game, and have provided some of the data to NBA.com.

Note: All pick-and-roll stats included are through Wednesday’s games.

Heading into Thursday’s game, Wall and Gortat had run almost 200 more pick-and-rolls than any other combination in the league. They’ve been a pretty solid combination, with the Wizards scoring 1.06 points per possession when the pair ran a pick-and-roll. That mark is a notch better than the league average of 1.03 (on pick-and-roll possessions) and ranks 87th among 209 pairs of teammates who have run pick-and-rolls on at least 100 possessions.

But there’s a big difference between a Wall-Gortat pick-and-roll and a Wall-Nene pick-and-roll, which has produced just 0.85 points per 100 possessions. That’s one reason why Washington ranks 29th in pick-and-roll efficiency (better than only the Milwaukee Bucks).

Wizards’ most-used pick-and-roll combinations

Ball-handler Screener Scr. P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
Wall Gortat 784 731 772 1.06
Wall Nene 349 324 275 0.85
Beal Gortat 240 226 224 0.99
Wall Booker 147 139 128 0.92
Beal Nene 121 116 110 0.95
Wall Ariza 111 111 119 1.07
Ariza Gortat 113 108 105 0.97
All other combinations 1,295 1,249 1,077 0.86
TOTAL 3,160 3,004 2,810 0.94

Wall has been more likely to pass to Nene than Gortat, but that hasn’t been a good idea, as Nene has shot just 16-for-48 (33 percent) on those plays.

John Wall pick-and-roll partners

Screener Scr. P&R Poss. JW FGM JW FGA JW FG% JW PTS Pass to S S FGM S FGA S FG%
Gortat 784 731 74 183 40.4% 171 188 42 85 49.4%
Nene 349 324 24 71 33.8% 56 129 16 48 33.3%
Booker 147 139 15 49 30.6% 33 34 6 13 46.2%
Ariza 111 111 14 23 60.9% 41 29 5 9 55.6%
Seraphin 85 81 4 11 36.4% 10 27 3 15 20.0%
Others 149 143 6 22 27.3% 17 25 2 10 20.0%
TOTAL 1,476 1,386 131 337 38.9% 311 407 72 170 42.4%

You see that Wall has shot worse when he’s come off a Nene screen, perhaps because Gortat sets a better pick and/or because Nene’s defenders are more mobile and able to defend Wall on a hedge or switch.

The Wizards will miss Nene, who’s out six weeks with an MCL sprain, but mostly on defense. The Wizards have allowed slightly less than a point per possession when he’s been the big defending a pick-and-roll. They’ve been almost seven points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor.

Offensively, they’ve been a point per 100 possessions better with him on the bench. And their pick-and-roll game might actually get better in these six weeks without him.

Top of the list

The Dallas Mavericks have been the most prolific pick-and-roll team in the league, but the Phoenix Suns have been the best, scoring 1.09 points per pick-and-roll possession, just a hair better than the Houston Rockets and Portland Trail Blazers.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, team

Team Screens Scr/100 Rank P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
Phoenix 2,640 47.8 24 2,162 2,362 1.093
Houston 2,480 44.2 27 2,091 2,282 1.091
Portland 2,805 49.7 23 2,295 2,499 1.089
Oklahoma City 2,834 50.0 22 2,354 2,554 1.08
New York 2,782 51.9 16 2,292 2,452 1.07
Miami 2,768 54.0 12 2,145 2,294 1.07
Dallas 3,955 69.6 1 3,031 3,226 1.06
San Antonio 2,752 50.7 20 2,224 2,361 1.06
Indiana 2,420 44.6 26 2,015 2,139 1.06
Toronto 3,529 66.2 2 2,696 2,848 1.06

Scr/100 = Screens per 100 possessions

The Suns’ success starts with Goran Dragic and Channing Frye, the aggressive ball-handler and the 6-foot-11 floor spacer. They’ve been the league’s top pick-and-roll combination among those with at least 100 pick-and-roll possessions.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, tandem

Team Ball-handler Screener Scr. P&R Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss
PHX Dragic Frye 425 392 510 1.30
MIA Wade Andersen 131 124 160 1.29
OKC Durant Collison 119 114 143 1.25
OKC Westbrook Durant 156 148 185 1.25
NOP Holiday Anderson 130 125 156 1.25
SAC Thomas Gay 168 165 202 1.22
POR Batum Lopez 183 180 220 1.22
POR Williams Lopez 121 111 135 1.22
IND Stephenson Hibbert 147 144 175 1.22
OKC Durant Perkins 209 196 238 1.21

Minimum 100 pick-and-roll possessions

Dragic has run almost the same amount of pick-and-rolls with Miles Plumlee (407 screens on 390 possessions) as he has with Frye (425, 392). But the Suns have  scored only 1.03 points per possession on the Dragic-Plumlee pick-and-rolls. Clearly, Dragic prefers to have a screener who pops out for a jumper, rather than one who rolls to the rim.

On those 390 Dragic-Plumlee possessions, Dragic has passed the ball 232 times, but only 59 times (25 percent) to Plumlee. On the 392 Dragic-Frye possessions, he’s passed the ball 234 times, and 113 of those passes (48 percent) have gone to Frye.

Overall, the Suns have been efficient when Dragic has the ball, scoring 1.16 points per possession from his 1,238 pick-and-rolls. That’s the best mark among 46 starting point guards and other high-usage perimeter players who have been the pick-and-roll ball-handler for at least 300 possessions. And who’s next on the list might surprise you.

Most points per pick-and-roll possession, ball-handler

Ball-handler Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss. Top Partner Poss. Team PTS PTS/Poss.
Goran Dragic 1,172 1,361 1.16 Channing Frye 392 510 1.30
DeMar DeRozan 690 793 1.15 Amir Johnson 261 303 1.16
Kevin Durant 732 813 1.11 Serge Ibaka 284 286 1.01
Jeremy Lin 528 586 1.11 Dwight Howard 166 181 1.09
LeBron James 659 729 1.11 Chris Bosh 188 225 1.20
Damian Lillard 1,121 1,238 1.10 LaMarcus Aldridge 441 526 1.19
Dwyane Wade 469 516 1.10 Chris Bosh 155 144 0.93
Jrue Holiday 783 859 1.10 Anthony Davis 245 256 1.04
Monta Ellis 1,451 1,583 1.09 Dirk Nowitzki 500 554 1.11
George Hill 619 672 1.09 David West 258 279 1.08

Among 46 starting point guards and other perimeter players in the top 25 in usage rate.
Top partner = Player with whom he’s run the most pick-and-rolls.

DeRozan’s numbers seem a little fluky. He’s shot just 41 percent out of pick-and-rolls, has recorded an assist on just 5.8 percent those 690 possessions (the fourth lowest rate of the group), and averages less than one secondary assist (where his pass directly leads to somebody else’s assist) per game. But he has drawn fouls on 9.4 percent of his pick-and-roll possessions, a rate on par with that of LeBron James.

Some more notes from this list…

  • It’s interesting that James has had good success with Chris Bosh, but Dwyane Wade hasn’t. Wade has actually shot better (18-for-32) than James has (14-for-31) coming off Bosh screens, but Bosh has shot better when receiving a pick-and-roll pass from James (15-for-22) than he has when getting one from Wade (9-for-25). The shooting numbers, of course, are some small sample sizes.
  • Of the 46 pick-and-roll ball-handlers I looked at, the most likely to shoot is Tony Wroten, who has taken a shot on 31.0 percent of the screens he’s come off of. Next on the list are Nick Young (30.7 percent), Reggie Jackson (30.0 percent), Jamal Crawford (29.6 percent) and Rudy Gay (29.6) percent.
  • The players least likely to shoot are Kendall Marshall (12.4 percent), Patrick Beverley (12.9 percent), Mario Chalmers (14.5 percent), George Hill (15.9 percent) and Ty Lawson (16.3 percent).
  • James (20.1 percent) is less likely to shoot than Chris Paul (21.3 percent), Dragic (21.7 percent) or Wall (22.1 percent).
  • The guy most likely to pass to the screener is Stephen Curry. Of Curry’s 830 passes out of pick-and-rolls, 56.3 percent have gone to the screener. Next on the list are Russell Westbrook (55.3 percent), Michael Carter-Williams (52.1 percent), Deron Williams (50.7 percent) and Kyrie Irving (48.7 percent).
  • The guy least likely to pass to the screener is James Harden (27.2 percent). So when they come off pick-and-rolls, Curry is twice as likely to pass to the screener than Harden is. After Harden comes Carmelo Anthony (27.4 percent), James (28.0 percent), Jrue Holiday (29.0 percent) and Tyreke Evans (30.3 percent).
  • Six of the 46 have shot better than 50 percent when coming off a pick-and-roll: Chalmers (54.8 percent), Dragic (53.2 percent), James (52.5 percent), Wade (51.3 percent), Kevin Durant (50.2 percent) and Tony Parker (50.2 percent).
  • Get this: Durant has recorded an assist on a higher percentage of his pick-and-roll possessions (13.0 percent) than James (10.3 percent) and more than twice as often as Paul George (6.0 percent).

Location is key

SportVU keeps track of where every pick-and-roll takes place. As you might expect, the closer to the basket the screen is set, the more likely the offense is to score. The most efficient pick-and-roll spot on the floor is at the high post (around the foul line, inside the 3-point arc), which produces 1.05 points per possession.

But high post pick-and-rolls account for only 4 percent of all pick-and-rolls. The most common location is the top of the key, which sees 41 percent of pick-and-roll action. Next is the wing (foul-line extended), which sees 28 percent and the “sideline point” area (out by the coach’s box line) at 25 percent.

Pick-and-rolls by location

Location Most PCT PPP Best PCT PPP Worst PCT PPP Lg. avg. PPP
Center Point NOP 53% 1.05 POR 42% 1.12 MIL 41% 0.90 41% 1.02
Wing CHI 39% 1.05 GSW 16% 1.11 ORL 19% 0.93 28% 1.02
Sideline Point DAL 32% 1.10 OKC 31% 1.17 WAS 25% 0.92 25% 1.03
High Post PHI 7% 1.03 HOU 3% 1.31 GSW 3% 0.80 4% 1.05
Corner MIA 7% 0.97 MIN 2% 1.28 BOS 3% 0.76 3% 0.99

PCT = Percentage of total pick-and-rolls run from that location.
PPP = Points per possession on pick-and-rolls run from that location.

We’re just scratching the surface here. And that’s the issue with SportVU. There’s so much data to digest, it has to be compartmentalized and put into the proper context. But we’re really starting to see how much it has to offer.

Next week, I’ll take a look at pick-and-roll defense. (Hint: Indiana good, Portland bad.)

Blogtable: The Suns With Pau

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


The Suns with Pau | The Wizards? Really? | Blake, Kevin or L.A.?


Pau Gasol (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Pau Gasol (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Imagine the Suns with Pau Gasol: Could he make a big difference?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comI’d like to see Phoenix acquire Gasol, so that 37 years worth of trade rumors about him can finally be put on mute. He would help the Suns, a finesse big man in the tradition of Alvan Adams, and certainly grab the attention of whichever top-4 seed drew Phoenix in the first round. The Suns’ surprising season and Jeff Hornacek‘s COY-worthy work deserves a boost, I can envision Goran Dragic clicking instantly with Gasol on the floor and this Rent-a-Pau move would provide a welcome anti-tanking storyline.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: While I think Gasol has consistently been underrated during his time in L.A., I don’t see a move to Phoenix elevating the Suns significantly in the playoff hierarchy. I don’t believe they would want to change what they’re doing now to get the ball inside and I don’t think Gasol is that inside force that’s going to carry a team anyway. And his addition isn’t going to make them a threat to win several — or maybe even one — round of the playoffs. Making the playoffs is an admirable and reachable goal for a team that most thought was tanking at the start of the season, but I wouldn’t give up a valuable first-round draft pick and derail future plans.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comI think it would be a great move for Phoenix. The Suns’ front line isn’t exactly a scoring machine, but it is a blue-collar, hard-working group. Gasol would add a touch of sophistication and fit perfectly alongside the stretch-4 Channing Frye. You’ve got to admire the job young center Miles Plumlee has done (9.5 ppg, 8.6 rpg), and his game would really benefit from being around Gasol, who is masterful in the low block. The Suns need a proven, low-post option in the playoffs. My only concern is Gasol’s seemingly constant slew of minor injuries. Aside from that, he’s a great fit for the Suns and it could really fire up Gasol, whose energy, in my opinion, has been drained by an ongoing mental wrestling match with Mike D’Antoni.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: At what cost? I like Gasol on the Suns if the price is Emeka Okafor and the Indiana pick in 2014. But Okafor and a choice that could be in the teens? Or Okafor and a decent prospect? No deal. If I’m Phoenix, I’d like to get better for this season, but the long term, the next five to seven seasons, remains the priority. In that perspective, Gasol at the right cost would be a nice addition as a potential rental before free agency. He would help on the boards, be a positive in the locker room and add playoff experience if the Suns get there.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: He would help, because they don’t really have a back-up center and a Gasol/Plumdog center rotation would be strong. But he wouldn’t necessarily make a significant difference, because they’ve been very good (+6.5 points per 100 possessions) with Channing Frye and Plumdog  on the floor together. Their biggest issue is defensive rebounding, and while Gasol is a very good defensive rebounder, plugging him in at center doesn’t exactly help their floor-spacing power forwards rebound better. It would be cool, though, if the Lakers could help upgrade one of the teams ahead of them and make the West playoff picture that much stronger.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comThe Suns are legit without Pau, one of the best surprise stories in recent memory. But a skilled, veteran big man like Pau could push them into another category altogether. They lost a little of that post presence when they traded Marcin Gortat. Pau would be an upgrade in that department. So yes, I think he’d make a significant difference for that Suns team if I’m imagining him with Goran Dragic and the rest of coach Jeff Hornacek‘s scrappy crew.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blogI think he could make a significant difference for the Suns. Pau may be older and no longer the player he used to be, but he also hasn’t been used in the post as much the last few years in Mike D’Antoni’s perimeter offense. With Phoenix’s uptempo offense, though, Gasol has the ability to play in the post as well as keep pace with his teammates. Also, Jeff Hornacek has shown a terrific acuity for making the best out of what he has.

Aldo Miguel Aviñante, NBA PhilippinesPau Gasol would provide a good, solid veteran presence in the middle for the young, athletic Suns squad. He will give them stability and experience and will prevent any sudden fall in the standings because of his leadership. He can play the pick and roll with Goran Dragic and play the high post and give beautiful passes to a cutting Eric Bledsoe, he will make the Suns a force to be reckoned with.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA GreeceI like them a lot. But I ‘m not sure if Pau Gasol is the right fit. He is a great post player, but the Suns are thriving in a certain up-tempo  playing style emphased in transition. Frye and the Morris twins are great pick-n-pop players that stretch the floor and Miles Plumlee is the quickest big guy around, a player that is very dedicated in pick-n-roll situations. The current front-line matches well with the guards, and that’s why the Suns have one of the best offenses in the league. So, as much I respect Pau Gasol, Phoenix seems like a bad idea.

Adriano Albuquerque, NBA BrasilPau Gasol could still make an impact in an NBA contending team. The Suns’ defense might suffer a little bit, but Gasol could give them an offensive force on the block, and a guy who could teach Miles Plumlee a thing or two. Yeah, I think it might be a good fit.

Blogtable: How High For The Suns?

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


Suns’ ceiling | The NBA’s Top Two | Kobe and the Lakers



VIDEO: The Beat: Ryan McDonough talks Suns

Suns: Great story. But how far can this team go?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: C’mon, it’s early. The Suns have done a number of impressive things so far. While no one should be surprised that a Jeff Hornacek-coached squad can shoot (46.5 FG%, sixth best) and score (sixth in offensive rating, 105.8), it is worth noting Phoenix’s 13-5 record when not playing the second of back-to-back games. And its 11-7 mark within the West (2-1 vs. Portland). Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe drive that team, and contributions have come from unheralded sources. Still, there’s miles to go – now sixth in the West, they’re only 4 ½ games from 13th. They’re a feel-good story that Phoenix fans haven’t embraced (last in the league in attendance) but they still don’t seem like a playoff team in that conference.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: The Suns are a nice story.  Coach Jeff Hornacek has them getting the most out of the abilities and driving hard against all of the preseason expectations about being last in the Western Conference.  But they still lack size, inside presence and formidable defense.  At this point it’s not out of the question that they could sneak into the playoffs, but that’s counting on the Timberwolves, Lakers and Grizzlies to all remain lost.

Eric Bledsoe (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Eric Bledsoe (Sam Forencich/NBAE)

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: They’re 25 games in so this is not a mirage. They quickly built a nice foundation on defense and head-down hustle that keeps them in most games. The backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic has been terrific. Channing Frye has heated up after a slow start to his feel-good return. Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green are co-candidates for Surprise Player of the Year. The Morris Brothers and P.J. Tucker never stop working. How far can they go? They’re not going to win the title, but for a team predicted to fall short of 25 wins, yeah, they can stay in the playoff hunt.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comThe playoffs are realistic. I wouldn’t say it’s a clear path to the postseason, but the Suns have blown every other expectation to bits, so why not that one as well? They’re pretty good on defense and efficient on offense, especially considering it’s a lot of new players adjusting to a new system while dealing with some injuries and comebacks. I won’t say they win a playoff series, so getting to the final eight in the West will be the (huge) accomplishment. But, again, it’s been proven Phoenix doesn’t care much about predictions

John Schuhmann, NBA.com:  I thought they were the worst team in the league after the Gortat trade, and I’m willing to admit to my mistakes. But I’m not yet willing to say that they’re a playoff team in the Western Conference. Right now, they rank sixth offensively and 17th defensively. The offense doesn’t seem sustainable, because 14 of their 23 opponents have been bottom-10 defensive teams and both Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic are both shooting well above their career marks. The defense, meanwhile, has regressed quite a bit; It ranks 27th over the last month, having allowed 106.7 points per 100 possessions. So, while I love watching them play and think Jeff Hornacek deserves a ton of credit, I’m leery of their success and I think these next five games – against the Parker-less Spurs, the Nuggets, the Mavs, the Lakers and the Warriors – could go a long way in determining where they stand.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comUnlike that fellow surprise story in Portland, I’m not convinced the Suns are built for a deep playoff run or anything like that. They are indeed a great early season surprise. And they are plenty fun to watch, with Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic playing lights out in the backcourt and Jeff Hornacek making his case for Coach of the Year honors. But I’m still a bit hesitant to crown these guys without seeing them finish five games above .500 in their 23-game stretch of the season. That said, I absolutely love the scrappy nature of this bunch and the way they go after teams. The fearlessness they’ve shown night after night helps dispel the notion that teams and players that are pegged for the lottery don’t care about winning. The Suns are making a mockery of all those folks who mocked them heading into this season. And that’s a feel-good story I’ll enjoy for as long as it lasts.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball blog: Isn’t the real question: How far do they want to go? I’m being generous here, but there are many teams in the NBA this season who seem to have winning buried deep somewhere on their list of primary goals for this season. I know that many people thought the Suns would fall into this category, but as it turns out, if you play hard for 48 minutes, you can win some games! To be clear: Even at full strength, they are not going to challenge for a title, but they could mess around and contend for the eighth spot in the playoffs or at least mess up what some other quality teams are trying to do. I think the real sign of their intentions this season will come when Emeka Okafor gets healthy and cleared to play. Will they use him and continue winning games, maybe more than they want to win? Or will they trade him for future considerations and basically say that the future outweighs the present?

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: The West is way too strong to have a surprise team making it to the playoffs. So, despite how much I really like what the Suns are doing right now and their awesome Bledsoe-Dragic duo, I think it’s going to be really hard for them to reach the postseason. Teams like the Warriors, the Timberwolves and even the new Kings (not to mention the Lakers) could eventually overcome them. Unless they are willing to give up one of their 2014 first round picks to get instant help …

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: We’re still only in December and therefore should not get too ahead of the calendar. But even if Phoenix does manage to maintain its solid start, I wouldn’t have them going any further than the first round of the 2014 playoffs. The postseason is about All-Stars and Phoenix is lacking on that count. Remember, the Nuggets were the third best in the West last season and yet they lost to the more talented Golden State Warriors in the first round of the 2013 playoffs.

Mild-Mannered Hornacek Infusing Suns With Just The Right Amount Of Fire


VIDEO: Jeff Hornacek talks about learning the ropes as an NBA coach

It took until the end of the second week of the season, five minutes into the second half of a game against the visiting Pelicans. It took five sloppy turnovers in the space of just three infuriating minutes.

It was, in fact, all  Jeff Hornacek could take. As he signaled for a timeout to apply a tourniquet, he whirled, raised an exasperated fist and slammed it down hard on the court side press table.

“Oh yeah,” said guard Eric Bledsoe as he thought back to the moment. “That got our attention. That was the first time I had ever seen him get that mad. You’re thinking to yourself, ‘Oh, he does have that in him.’ “

It was one of the questions that loomed from the time the 50-year-old Hornacek took over as the Suns coach in May following Phoenix’s 25-win season of 2012-13, the fewest wins in franchise history since the expansion season (1968-69). Was Hornacek simply too nice of a guy to do the heavy lifting required by the job?

“You can see where people might get that impression from the outside,” said small forward P.J. Tucker. “Because for the most part he’s always the same. He doesn’t have those emotional swings that you see from a lot of coaches. I know you hear a lot of coaches say they don’t intend to be that way. Then you watch them and see them losing it.

“From the first day that he got together with this team, all Jeff has been focused on is getting us to play with emotion, play hard, play aggressive. He channels his energy into us.”

“It important that the coach can stay calm, especially on a young team like this one,” said guard Goran Dragic. “When players are going through bad minutes on the floor, you need someone that can keep his confidence. It allows you to move forward. I will say that he is a nice guy as long as you don’t take advantage of him. If you do, he can bring you back to the ground.”

It was hardly the ideal situation to have your coaching baptism. After the misery of last season, the Suns went into an almost total rebuilding mode, purging the roster of most of their veteran players. Luis Scola, Jared Dudley, Michael Beasley, Jermaine O’Neal and Wesley Johnson were moved over the summer. Marcin Gortat, Kendall Marshall and Shannon Brown were traded to the Wizards just before the season opener.

So who was left? Veterans Dragic and Channing Frye to mix with Bledsoe, Tucker, Marcus and Markieff Morris and a No. 1 draft choice in Alex Len (who needed ankle surgery and has played just token minutes in four games). It was a roster picked by most experts to finish rock bottom in the rugged Western Conference and Las Vegas oddsmakers posted the over-under on Suns wins for the season at 21.5. The Suns and their coach getting his first crack at being the man in charge could have been offended.

“No,” Hornacek said. “Obviously this team won 25 games last year. We traded away a lot of our veteran guys who helped them win games last year. So we understand how it looks. But we went into this season and training camp tell our players, hey, you’re gonna read all that stuff, hear all that stuff. But if we play hard, we believe you guys are good players and if we play together and play hard we’ll win our fair share of games. I’m not going to put our a number on it or anything like that. But we’ll win our fair share and so far that’s what’s happened.”


VIDEO: Bledsoe fuels Suns’ victory in Houston

So the group went out and made Hornacek the first coach in Suns history to win his first four home games. They kept every game within a five-point margin in the final five minutes for the first three weeks of the season. After a home win against Toronto on Friday night, they stand at 11-9. They are doing it with an offensive style that wants to run when it can and a defensive approach that is always attacking on the perimeter. Hornacek is making the most of the guard tandem of Dragic and Bledsoe that many thought create duplication and conflict.

“Look, I’m only a rookie in this league myself, but I’ve had a lot of coaches at other levels of the game,” said center Miles Plumlee, “and I think what we are is a reflection of Jeff’s personality. What I know of him during his pro career is a guy that used no excuses, took no shortcuts and got the most out of his ability.”

All the while he’s been doing it by keeping a lid on those outward displays of emotions.

“I slip every once in a while,” Hornacek said. “They could drive you crazy. That’s part of it. Not everything’s gonna go perfectly. I think all coaches get frustrated when they see the same errors over and over. If they see something new, OK, maybe haven’t seen that. But the guy makes a mistake and does the same thing and does the same thing that’s when you’re gonna pound your head and say ‘OK, we talked about that.’ That’s the way it is.

“We’re also pretty young except for a couple of guys, Channing and Goran have been around. Everyone else is playing minutes that they’ve never played before. So we hopefully learn, but that’s a big part of it. I think it’s also part as an ex-player to want to be out there. You see things happen and you can give these guys all the preparation and talk about reads, but they actually have to do it out there … Maybe as ex-players, you see, ‘This is gonna develop.’ But they’ve got to figure that out.”

So far, Hornacek is giving his Suns enough room and push to do that.

Frye Comeback Shows A Lot Of Heart


VIDEO: Channing Frye talks about the challenges of his comeback

HANG TIME WEST – Of course he was nervous.

“There were some times,” Channing Frye said. “When I first came back, there were times when I was nervous.”

He had gone 557 days between games, from April 21, 2012, at Denver to Oct. 30, 2013, in Phoenix, not just his home arena as a Sun, but also his hometown. He had gone through a battery of tests just to be cleared for practice. He had missed an entire season at age 29, what should be the prime years for health, with dilated cardiomyopathy. An enlarged heart.

Damn right Frye was nervous.

And then he played. He immediately started for the Suns at power forward, the stretch four whose range was designed to create space in the offense. Understandably, he struggled with his timing and his shot, and didn’t worry. Frye initially worried whether he was supposed to be so tired after workouts and games and then remembered, yes, he was, in the healthiest of times as well, and he didn’t sweat that either.

Nothing had changed, and everything had changed. What on the surface is the comeback of old Channing Frye, a success story increasing by the day, is actually more like the early look at the new Frye, the one altered by having to contemplate serious health issues and forced to miss an entire season from the game he loves.

“It changed me for the better,” he said of the health scare. “I’m just a lot more relaxed about things. I’m more mature about things. I see the bigger picture. I’m a lot more appreciative of just everything. It’s like, you’ve got to see the bigger picture. We have an awesome job. This is my job, to go play basketball in front of 15,000 people every night. It’s awesome.”

The original scare of heart troubles at such a young age was replaced by a determination. The times when Frye wasn’t sure he would make it back to the NBA, when it took the encouragement of family and friends to stay positive, were replaced by a passion to play again. He decided, bottom line, he was not done with basketball yet and would not be driven from the game without at least a final try with the Suns.

Frye told himself, “F— this heart thing,” and then he told his wife. “F— this,” Channing remembers saying to Lauren. “I’m not going out like this.” He wouldn’t risk his life to play, but once doctors in several cities cleared Frye to return, once he successfully completed a battery of tests, once he got past the initial worry, he was in attack mode, not comeback mode.

This is about his heart, all right.

Frye has gone from considering retirement – “Pretty close. You had to think about it.” – to averaging 26.9 minutes, 10.3 points and 5.3 rebounds while shooting 43.9 percent overall and 37.3 percent behind the arc at age 30 as the feel-good story as part of an entire Suns team exceeding expectations.

“He went through all the doctors, he checked with all kinds of specialists,” coach Jeff Hornacek said. “When it came down to them telling him he’s fine and he can play then I think we all just accepted the fact that he can play. I’m sure the trainers are on alert if something happens, but we have to go at it as if there’s nothing wrong and there’s no risks. Obviously if he felt there was a risk, he wouldn’t be playing.”

Plus, now he is playing well – Frye has scored at least 16 points in four of the last six games and has made at least half his 3s in the same four of six. He logged 41 minutes in Wednesday’s victory over the Trail Blazers that moved the Suns to 8-7, after playing 33 and 32 the previous two outings.

He is not as rusty as before. He is definitely not nervous.

“No,” the new, changed Frye said. “I’m too calm for that. There’s no anxiety about stuff. There’s no nothing. I just go out there and play. It is what it is. That nervousness, there’s no need for it.”

New-Look Suns Getting It Done


VIDEO: Suns keep rolling, drop Pelicans

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Of the 16 players that suited up for the Phoenix Suns last season, 12 are gone.

Then there was the ultimate short-timer Caron Butler, a Suns player this summer just long enough to model the franchise’s new uniforms at a Scottsdale mall. In all, eight players are new to the roster, and straight from the feel-good department is Channing Frye returning from a scary heart condition that robbed him of the entire 2012-13 season. Frye is the Suns’ longest-tenured player, signed as a free agent way back in 2009, before current general manager Ryan McDonough had celebrated his 30th birthday.

The Suns’ starting five includes two players from last season: P.J.Tucker and Goran Dragic to go with Frye, Miles Plumlee and star-in-the-making Eric Bledsoe.

And here they are, a team that figured to lose games at a rapid rate is 5-2 and leading the Pacific Division. So how is it possible for an organization that hired a new GM, hired a new coach, cleaned house and then traded its talented starting center Marcin Gortat to Washington a week before the season started (for an injured one who might not play at all) to have already secured one-fifth of its win total from all of last season?

(more…)

Bledsoe Emerging From Paul’s Shadow




VIDEO: Eric Bledsoe sinks the game-winner for the Suns in a win over the Utah Jazz

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – What good is an opportunity in the NBA if you don’t take advantage of it?

For Eric Bledsoe, formerly of the Los Angeles Clippers (where he served most recently as Chris Paul‘s back up), the first three years of his career served as the set up for the opportunity he’s taking full advantage of now with the Phoenix Suns.

The Clippers used Bledsoe to bolster their depth, a move that removed one of the most physically talented young (Bledsoe is 23) players at the position to a situation that would allow him to flourish without the restriction of playing behind a future Hall of Famer. That, of course, meant that Bledsoe would no longer be mentored by Paul and he would not be able to learn under Rivers, who helped smooth out many of the rough edges in All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo‘s game in Boston.

But the freedom Bledsoe is playing with under Suns coach Jeff Hornacek is helping Bledsoe emerge from Paul’s shadow in a way that will prove to the rest of the league that he’s ready to shed his promising prospect label and truly become a legitimate starting point guard in the league.

This is the part of the player metamorphosis that has always fascinated me. You never know for sure what a guy is capable of until he’s plopped into that pressure cooker on a nightly basis. Bledsoe — 22.8 points, 7.8 assists and 5.8 rebounds to go along with 50 percent shooting from the floor — has proved to be more than capable of handling the increased responsibility for a Suns team that has been stronger (3-1) out of the gate than most anyone expected.

I think it helps tremendously that Bledsoe is now working in an environment where everyone has been thrust into new roles with expectations on their individual contributions raised dramatically, as Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic pointed out after the Suns win over the New Orleans Pelicans Tuesday night:

Goran Dragic became a co-captain. Eric Bledsoe became a starter and a co-captain. Marcus Morris and Gerald Green have become rotation regulars. P.J. Tucker could be a full-season starter. Channing Frye and Miles Plumlee went from watching a season — for far different reasons — to starting. Alex Len and Archie Goodwin have gone from amateurs to pros.

“It’s a lot of guys who are getting a chance to prove themselves,” Tucker said. “I love it. Every day, we have guys around us who really want it and really want to play and help us win. That’s why we’re always going to be in games. It’s like night and day from last year. There are going to be inconsistencies, no doubt about it. But as long as we fight, play hard and play together, I can live with that.”

This season is a proving ground for most of the Suns, whether it is for bigger roles or bigger money — like Bledsoe and Tucker, who are in their contract years.

There is an eagerness about the group, whether it is to practice or improve. Coach Jeff Hornacek has enhanced that by opening up competition at every job and showing a willingness to turn to any player in key moments.

“We want them to be hungry because they want to win and do things as a team,” Hornacek said. “Within that, they’ll be able to prove that they can play this game at a high level. With Ryan, hopefully all the players he brings here are hard workers, because that’s Step 1 of anything. You could have the most talented guys in the world but if they don’t work hard, they’re not going to do well. We’ve got a bunch of guys on this team that play hard. That’s Step 1.”

For Bledsoe this chance to prove himself is even more crucial since he’ll become a restricted free agent at season’s end. He’s auditioning as a starting point guard for the entire league. The parts of his game that would have been cloaked from decision makers and the public as a back up will be on full display all season as the Suns’ catalyst.

How he continues to respond to that showcase factor will speak volumes about not only the player and competitor Bledsoe has become, but also about the player and competitor he could grow into in the coming years.

It’s enough to make the Suns, a team many had written off before the start of the season, a team to keep a close eye on as the season progresses, the same as Bledsoe!


VIDEO: Eric Bledsoe leads the Phoenix Suns in a win over the New Orleans Pelicans

Morning Shootaround — Oct. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

D-Will looking better | Rose has planned absence from practice | Love ready to new season | Suns’ Frye happy to play again | Cheeks has big plans in Detroit

No. 1: D-Will out of walking boot — After suffering a right ankle injury during his offseason workout in Utah, Nets star Deron Williams was put in a walking boot to help stabilize the injury. But he’s apparently mended nicely since then and will be OK for all of training camp, writes Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com: 

“My ankle’s doing better,” Williams said at the team’s media day availability at Barclays Center. “The main thing right now is I could probably go out there and do everything. But if I tweak my ankle or have a setback, then that wouldn’t be good. So right now we’re just gonna take it slow and see how things go.”

Williams, 29, is coming off an injury-plagued 2012-13 season. He played in 78 games despite being bothered by ankle inflammation and weight problems for the majority of the season.

“Personally, I just want to get better overall,” Williams said. “The last couple years have not been my greatest, so I just want to get back to the way I’m playing and get my confidence back to the way it should to be.”

Williams struggled last season up until the All-Star break, when he received a third set of cortisone shots in both ankles. During that week, Williams also received platelet-rich plasma therapy treatment and did a three-day juice cleanse.

***

No. 2: Rose misses scrimmage in ‘planned’ absenceBefore all of Chicago and the rest of the NBA world panics over the news that Derrick Rose missed part of practice with the Bulls, keep in mind this is all part of the plan to keep Rose healthy for the entire season and beyond, writes K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said Derrick Rose sat out the scrimmaging portion of Monday’s practice as part of “planned rest.”

“He did some, the warmup phase,” Thibodeau said. “And we went shorter (Monday). We had a teaching segment that of course he participated in and the warmup phase. But the live stuff, we were planning on giving him (Monday) off.”

Rose, who sat out all last season after left knee surgery, had said he didn’t want to miss any practice time or preseason games if the decision was left to him. By all accounts, Rose has looked dominant thus far in practice.

…”We said we’d take it step-by-step,” Thibodeau said. “He has practiced very well. The next step is to see where he is in a game. We’re trying to get it as close to a gamelike condition as we can. He has handled that part. But there’s nothing like a game.

“The preseason games will be the next step. And of course there’s a different level when we get to the regular season. But he has prepared himself well.”

***

No. 3: Love not interested in rehashing last seasonPlaying in just 18 games last season due to various injuries, Kevin Love put up Love-like stats (18.3 ppg, 14.0 rpg), but his overall absence clearly hampered the Wolves (who had plenty of other injury issues aside from Love). As Media Day unfolded Monday, Love was in no way interested in talking about what went wrong in Minnesota last season, writes Jerry Zgoda of the Star-Tribune:

Timberwolves forward Kevin Love reported for duty with his surgically repaired knee and hand reportedly all healed and his body lean.

He also made one thing abundantly clear: The past is in the…well, you know.

“Last year is last year,” the two-time All-Star forward, uttering a line he used repeatedly during a 12-minute session with reporters at the team’s annual media day.

He made it clear he has little interest in discussing a lost season in which he played just 18 games after breaking his shooting hand not once but twice.

Love also wasn’t much interested in discussing his relationship with former President of Basketball of Operations David Kahn, who was replaced by Flip Saunders last May.

“The past is the past and it’s great to have Flip on board,” Love said. “We’ve had great talks. … We all know what happened last year, and we just want to move forward and take care of unfinished business.”

Love looked like he’s in the best shape of his career, even though he said he doesn’t know exactly how much weight he lost from last season.

***

No. 4: Frye always confident he’d return – During a two-season span stretching from 2010-11 to 2011-12, no center in the league hit more 3-pointers than the Suns specialist, Channing Frye. As a key part of a contending team in Phoenix, Frye nailed 172 and 171 3-pointers, respectively, and, for good measure, made 91 in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. But an enlarged heart kept Frye on the sidelines last season, but he tells ProBasketballTalk.com’s Brett Pollakoff he never doubted he’d return to the NBA again:

“My heart had a cold for a year, it went away,” he said. “So now I’m better.”

Frye is expected to be a full participant in training camp, with no restrictions. He was emphatic when asked if he needed to be on any medication.

“None. No way. I’m all healthy,” was Frye’s response.

Frye didn’t have to return to the NBA, obviously. Not only has he amassed more than $28 million in career earnings with two more guaranteed contract years ahead of him, but he reminded us that with his education, he could easily go do something else.

“I could be a teacher if I want to,” Frye said. “I’ve got my degree now.”

But he doesn’t have to pursue other options just yet. When asked about his choice to come back, Frye pointed to the motivation of overcoming his illness, along with a feeling inside that told him he still had something left to give to the game he loves.

“I just felt like I was never done,” Frye said. “Even when things didn’t look good, I just felt like I wasn’t done yet. And I was determined to approach this like I approach everything else.

“I wasn’t always the best, I wasn’t always the strongest or the tallest or the fastest. I just want to play ball, you know? It’s what I’m supposed to do, and I never felt like I was done.”

***

No. 5: Cheeks expecting a lot from Jennings, Drummond The Pistons were one of the most active teams in the offseason and their addition of Brandon Jennings via a sign-and-trade deal with the Bucks was one of their more marquee moves. In addition, changing coaches from Lawrence Frank to Maurice Cheeks was another shake-up that was done in hopes of ending Detroit’s playoff drought. Cheeks has made it abundantly clear to Jennings and young big man Andre Drummond that he’s hoping for big things from them this season, writes Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free-Press:

New Pistons coach Maurice Cheeks mentioned he talked with Jennings on Monday about the expectations for the young point guard.

Cheeks was asked what he said, but he deferred and said he was more curious to hear Jennings’ recollection of the conversation.

“Everything was just straightforward,” Jennings said. “He said the team goes as far as I go. He’s looking for a guy who can come in here with a positive attitude every day and a guy that’s not too high and not too low, but in the middle.

“He said he is going to be on me every day, and he’s going to put a lot of pressure on me.”

One of the things that angered fans last season was former coach Lawrence Frank’s limiting of rookie center Andre Drummond’s minutes.

Cheeks said he isn’t looking to limit Drummond and expects big things in his second season.

“I’m going to put him out on the floor for sure,” Cheeks said. “I’m not looking not to play him, I’m looking to play him. He’s going to be out on the floor. There’s no other way to say it.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Eric Gordon clears the air in New Orleans about his dedication to the PelicansO.J. Mayo is glad to be with the Bucks for a while … Jazz support coachTyrone Corbin , but won’t talk extension yet … Coach Kevin McHale not sweating who will be the leader of the Rockets

ICYMI of the night: The last of the Media Days happened on Monday, so as we wait for practices to get rolling league-wide, here are good interview with some of the movers and shakers in the Eastern and Western Conferences:

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